This week we held a board meeting for The New Road Map Foundation, an organization that advocates financial literacy for individuals. Good timing. Have you seen the economy lately? It’s looking sketchy. New Road Map helps people draw the life they want instead of just copying someone else’s. But we don’t all have to do it the same way.
We all agreed this is a prime time for the organization’s goals that I think of as financial literacy, financial integrity, and financial independence for individuals by individuals. (I forget the exact wording.) Every person may not be their own credentialed financial expert, but professional institutional expertise has lost much of its credibility. New Road Map provides resources based around the 9-Step program developed by Joe Dominguez and written and championed by Vicki Robin. The site has study guides, inspirational stories, access to classes, speakers, and the Simple Living Forums, which are possibly the busiest part of the site. The forums are online discussion groups of people at every level of financial knowledge and stability. There’s a lot there. Spreading it around is the hard part.
I’ve been Secretary, prime note taker and agenda collector, for a bit more than two years now, during some of the worst economic crises in memory. I feel sorry for anyone that’s only known investing from 2000 until now. To them it must seem like perpetual drama and trauma. It wasn’t always that way. In the meantime, though, even experienced money managers find themselves avoiding the topic and the news. (Hmm, maybe if I wasn’t Secretary the economy would return to normal.)
Despite the drama, we know there are people who are taking personal responsibility for their finances. We also know that many people don’t know where to start.
Art comes to mind as an analogy as I write. That’s probably because I am blogging from my Saturday station sitting beside my photos amongst the painters, sculptors, and jewelers at the Bailey Saturday Art Market.
Creating art intimidates many. They look at masterpieces and balk at starting because they can’t imagine getting from not even knowing one canvas from another to somehow being able to create stunning imagery. The trick is realizing that every masterpiece was painted by someone who, at one time, knew nothing about paints, pigments, brushes, and easels. Child proteges happen, but I suspect most artists follow a much longer and more strenuous path without knowing how far they’ll go. The important accomplishment was the tendency to continue the journey.
I think everyone has some artist in them. The trick is finding the art that fits the artist. Most of the artists setting up today started slowly and small then worked their way to bigger visions and larger goals. Finding the best way to start may mean taking many first steps into different arts until one is found where the second step leads to the third, the fourth, and on. Whether it is a fad, a trend, or a major movement, sketching has become common. Groups of them gather to sketch, socialize, and amaze the rest of us with many points of view from within one scene.
Sketching groups seem to be more like quilting groups, but without the need for eye strain, pricked fingers, and yards of fabric. I don’t sketch, but I’ve watched sketchers set up with a few pens, maybe some simple watercolors, and a sketch pad. Drinks frequently are included. Maybe that’s an advantage over quilting, a stain doesn’t ruin months of work unless it soaks an entire book.
Understanding personal finance can be intimidating. Few people are taught much more than how to balance a checkbook. Credit cards, mortgages and taxes are part of everyday life and most people sign up out of necessity instead of from deep understanding. Understanding the interplay of income, debt, and taxes is necessarily more complicated. Personal investing can be that much further removed until retirement becomes less abstract, at which time there isn’t as much time for it to work readily and easily.
I think everyone can handle most, and maybe all, of their personal finances. Ideally there are steps that could almost be mechanized if a person started back when they made their first dollar, peso, or euro. Realistically, even though I am a proponent of the 9-Step program and think Step 1 is a good place to start, it can make most sense to start with the piece that presents itself. Find that comfort zone, that easy sketch, and work from there.
I started without knowing it. A grandmother who had quiet investments in stocks and rental houses, frugal parents who didn’t spend more than they made but who weren’t afraid of necessary debt, and a high school bookkeeping class meant that I started my first professional job with the ability to live off one paycheck a month and invest the rest. By the time I read Your Money or Your Life I was mostly on my way to early retirement. Stepping through the 9 steps was more confirmation than illumination. I hire out the tougher parts like taxes.
To those under thirty, congratulations if you are already sketching out your personal finances and your plan. To everyone else, don’t be surprised if your life has already provided a few lessons, some resources, and accomplishments that can provide a prepared canvas, a foundation from which you can draw a personal masterpiece. The most important step to take is the next one, even if it feels a bit sketchy.